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Category: Classroom Management

More than 200 upper-division undergraduate students (students with experience in nearly 20 college-level courses) were asked to describe two incidents involving other students that negatively influenced their classroom experience. In addition, the students were asked to rate the frequency of the behavior, how seriously it disrupted the classroom, and how adequately the instructor discouraged the behavior. The initial query generated 436 critical incidents, which the researchers placed in one of the six categories highlighted here.  Side discussions – Students talking with other students about the class or some unrelated topic. Technology issues – Student using laptops, tablets, phones, music players, or other electronic devices, but not for class-related activities. Over-the-top participation – Students dominating class discussion with multiple comments and questions that were regularly perceived by other students as irrelevant. Commitment issues – Students arriving late, leaving early, sleeping, and coming to class unprepared. Proximity issues – Students eating in class, issues of personal hygiene, invasion of space, and coming to class sick. Miscellaneous issues – This catch-all category identified disruptions such as bringing a child or pet to class, bullying, and public displays of affection.  Side discussions were mentioned most frequently by these students (36.9%), followed by technology issues (31.9%), over-the-top participation (11.7%), commitment issues (9%), proximity issues (6.8%), and miscellaneous issues (3.1%). As for how often these disruptions occurred in their classes, here proximity issues rated highest, scoring 7.10 on a 10-point scale, followed by technology (6.49/10) and side discussions (6.47/10). Following closely after that were miscellaneous issues, over-the-top participation, and commitment issues. Which behaviors did students consider most disruptive? Miscellaneous issues topped that category, rated 7.43/10, followed by over-the-top participation (7.30/10), side discussions (6.78/10), commitment issues (6.41/10), proximity issues (6.32/10), and technology issues (5.86/10). The researchers point out several interesting details in these results. They note that side discussions are known to disrupt instructors. That students find them “annoying” and “disrespectful” means they are an issue for everyone in the classroom, beyond those participating in the side discussion. Perhaps the response to these distractions could come from everyone as well. The researchers go on to note that faculty responses to the use of technology in the classroom are mixed. Many faculty are struggling with how to enforce these policies; others don't find technology use all that disruptive because students are effectively hiding their use. Still others are encouraging students to use technology for class-related work, but they are more or less ignoring use of technology for other reasons. The fact that these students mentioned it frequently, reported that it occurred frequently, and rated it on the higher side of the 10-point scale should motivate faculty to revisit their current policies and practices. In this study, students were also asked to identify the approaches they believe can be used in response to these behaviors. Students offered suggestions that researchers put in one of five categories.  Enforcing policies – Students recommended that faculty take control of the classroom, that they be authoritarian, including “calling out” students for disruptive behaviors, embarrassing them, asking them to leave class, and deducting points for disruptive behavior and rewarding good behavior by adding points. Developing policies – Students think policies prohibiting disruptive behavior should be developed and those expectations should be communicated on the syllabus and at the beginning of the course and reinforced with regular reminders. Maintaining the status quo – The recommendation here is to ignore the disruptions. Students pointed out that most aren't the professor's fault and many (like student attitudes) are beyond the instructor's control. Engaging students – The implied assumption here being if interesting things are happening in class, there are less time and fewer reasons to be disruptive. Being observant of the classroom environment – Teachers should be more aware of classroom dynamics and how students are experiencing the class, and then adjust the instruction to respond to that dynamic.  These recommended responses are listed in order of their perceived effectiveness: enforcing policies was thought to be the best way of responding to disruptive student behaviors, followed by developing policies. The researchers observe, “By enforcing policies, instructors can garner more respect in the classroom, which in turn may encourage students to be less disruptive in the classroom.” (p. 122) The last three responses were considered significantly less effective than the first two. However, when it came to how faculty effectively discourage the behavior, enforcing the policies topped the list, but it garnered only a 6.25 on a 10-point scale. The miscellaneous issues, which students rated as the most disruptive, they thought were handled least effectively, a 3.57 on a 10-point scale. The researchers conclude with some caveats about how policies are enforced. When used to excess, controlling and authoritarian instructor behaviors can have a chilling effect on the classroom environment. They may frighten well-behaving students and dampen all students' motivation to participate. And despite having much power, teachers are not all-powerful. If a student is asked to leave the classroom and refuses to do so, either the instructor looks powerless or an ugly altercation follows. This student cohort saw no role for themselves in dealing with each other's disruptive behavior, perhaps because they weren't asked. In their view, teachers should make and enforce the policies, engage students, and be responsive to what they observe happening in class. Certainly teachers have leadership responsibilities, but they cannot create or maintain classroom environments alone. The effectiveness of teachers' enforcement of policies would be greatly enhanced if students joined the effort. Peer pressure is a powerful force. Teachers need to explore ways to engage it when it comes to creating classroom climates where the behaviors support efforts to learn.  Reference: Hoffman, K. D. and Lee, S. H. (2014). A CIT investigation of disruptive student behaviors: The student's perspective. Marketing Education Review, 24 (2), 115-126.